►A “bridge of faith and martyrdom” links the “Kirishitan Samurai,” Justo Ukon Takayama (1552-1615), Japan’s greatest lay missionary in the 16th century, who died in Manila in 1615, with San Lorenzo Ruiz (1594-1637), Filipino protomartyr who died in Nagasaki in 1637. “Martyrdom is the deepest link between our two churches,” Cardinal-Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle, Cardinal Prefect of the Evangelization of Peoples (“Propaganda Fide”), has said.
In a Eucharistic Mass with Japanese Catholics in Kobe, Japan on Feb. 3, 2016, then-Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said the Philippines, especially Manila, and Japan are linked through a “bridge of faith and martyrdom.”
On Feb. 7, 2017, Cardinal Tagle concelebrated the Mass during the Beatification Ceremonies at the Osaka-jō Hall, Kyōbashi, Osaka (Japan), which was presided by Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS), on Pope Francis’s behalf.
Saint Lorenzo Ruiz
►Lorenzo was born in Manila of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, both Christians. Thus he learned Chinese and Tagalog from them, and Spanish from the Dominicans whom he served as altar boy and sacristan. He became a professional calligrapher, transcribing documents in beautiful penmanship. He was a full member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary under Dominican auspices. He married and had two sons and a daughter.
Lorenzo’s life took an abrupt turn when he was accused of murder. Nothing further is known except the statement of two Dominicans that “he was sought by the authorities on account of a homicide at which he was present or which was attributed to him.”
At that time, three Dominican priests, Antonio Gonzalez, Guillermo Courtet, and Miguel de Aozaraza, were about to sail to Japan in spite of a violent persecution there. With them was a Japanese priest, Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz, and a layman named Lazaro, a leper. Lorenzo, having taken asylum with them, was allowed to accompany them. But only when they were at sea did he learn that they were going to Japan.
They landed at Okinawa. Lorenzo could have gone on to Formosa, but, he reported, “I decided to stay with the Fathers, because the Spaniards would hang me there.” In Japan they were soon found out, arrested, and taken to Nagasaki.
They were subjected to an unspeakable kind of torture: After huge quantities of water were forced down their throats, they were made to lie down. Long boards were placed on their stomachs and guards then stepped on the ends of the boards, forcing the water to spurt violently from mouth, nose and ears.
The superior, Fr. Gonzalez, died after some days. Both Fr. Shiwozuka and Lazaro broke under torture, which included the insertion of bamboo needles under their fingernails. But both were brought back to courage by their companions.
In Lorenzo’s moment of crisis, he asked the interpreter, “I would like to know if, by apostatizing, they will spare my life.” The interpreter was noncommittal, but in the ensuing hours Lorenzo felt his faith grow strong. He became bold, even audacious, with his interrogators.
Lorenzo’s persecutors gave him an ultimatum, “Would you renounce your faith in God if we let you live?” To which Lorenzo bravely responded, “If I had one thousand lives, I’d give it all to Jesus. I would never deny my faith even if it costs my life.”
The five were put to death by being hanged upside down in pits. Boards fitted with semi-circular holes were fitted around their waists and stones put on top to increase the pressure. They were tightly bound, to slow circulation and prevent a speedy death. They were allowed to hang for three days. By that time Lorenzo and Lazaro were dead. Still alive, the three priests were then beheaded.
In 1987, Pope John Paul II canonized these six and 10 others: Asians and Europeans, men and women, who spread the faith in the Philippines, Formosa, and Japan. Lorenzo Ruiz is the first canonized Filipino martyr. The Liturgical Feast of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and Companions is September 28.
Blessed Justo Ukon Takayama (1552-1615; beatified 2017)
Hikogorō Takayama (彦五郎).was born in 1552, scion of the castellan of Sawa Castle in Yamato Province, Tomoteru Takayama (高山友照, 1531–1596), an ardent Buddhist who persecuted the early Jesuit missionaries. But in a series of discussions with Bro. Lorenzo, a half-blind Jesuit brother, he was convinced of the tenets of Christianity, and converted with his family and retinues at Sawa Castle. Hikogorō, 11, was baptized Justo, after St. Justin the Martyr, on whose feast day on June 1, 1563 Justo was baptized.
Dom Dario Tomoteru Takayama was awarded the Takatsuki Castle, but the old man decided to turn over the domain to his eldest son Ukon, who at age 21, ruled Takatsuki foe the next 11 years.
In Takatsuki, Lord Justo Ukon Takayama (高山右近) used his resources to build churches, oratorios and a seminary for the Jesuits – to the chagrin of the Buddhist advisers of Chancellor Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豐臣 秀吉/豊臣 秀吉, 1537 – 1598).
In 1585, Ukon was reshuffled to to three-times larger Akashi (明石市, Akashi-shi) located in southern Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan, on the Seto Inland Sea west of Kobe.
His troubles coincided with the persecution of Christians in Japan, which started on July 24-25, 1587. He received a message from Hideyoshi asking him to give up his faith or lose his fief and position in the latter’s army. He replied that while he had made an oath of allegiance to Hideyoshi, he was prepared to give up wealth, position and power to follow a greater lord, Jesus Christ.
Stripped of his Akashi domain, he became a ronin — a masterless samurai — who found protection with a Christian Daimyo, Admiral Augustine Konishi Yukinaga who, despite being a Christian, was needed by Hideyoshi to realize his conquest of Korea. With the tacit consent of Hideyoshi, Ukon was hired as a guest-general by Kaga Daimyo Toshiee Maeda, where he served until the final edict of February 1614, deporting him to either Macau or Manila.
Takayama left Kanazawa on Feb. 15, 1614, and after a 150-day journey in the winter, he arrived in Nagasaki where he boarded a boat for Manila on Nov. 8, 1614.
Takayama arrived in Manila on Dec. 21, 1614, and was literally greeted with open arms by the Spanish governor-general, Juan de Silva (r. 1609-1616). Justo Ucondono was accompanied by 350 Catholic deportees, including: his wife Lady Justa Kuroda Takayama (1563-?), a daughter, Lucia Takayama Yokoyama married to Yokoyama Daizen Yasuharu (1590-1645), a general of the Maeda clan; five grandchildren (the eldest 16, the youngest almost eight); and 💥23 Jesuits (eight Jesuit fathers and 15 Jesuit brothers), 💥four Franciscan fathers, 💥two Dominican fathers, 💥two Augustinian fathers, and 💥two secular fathers, 💥the 15 nuns (14 Japanese, one Korean) of the Jesuit-chaplained “Beatas de Meaco” or “Miyako no Bikuni” (Nuns of Kyoto, 1615-1656), 💥about 100 Japanese catechists, and 💥two dozen sons and daughters of Japanese noble families.
Sometime in January 1615, Takayama fell ill. He died of “a tropical ailment” four days later, on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 1615 — only 44 days after his arrival in Manila on Sunday, Dec. 21, 1614. He was buried near the High Altar of the Jesuit church in Intramuros – Santa Ana Church – at the PLM /Jesuit Compound.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, described the new Blessed as “an extraordinary witness of the Christian faith in difficult times of opposition and persecution.”
Writing about the “greatest Japanese missionary in the 16th century,” Fr. Anton Witwer, SJ, Jesuit General Postulator who promoted Takayama’s Cause, said: “Four hundred years have passed since the death of Justus Takayama Ukon (1552 Osaka-1615 Manila), remembered and revered in Japan not only as a martyr, but also as a great witness to the Christian faith, which he practiced in connection with the mission of the Society of Jesus.
“He was the greatest Japanese missionary of the sixteenth century because of how he lived the Christian faith with the tenacity, rigor and loyalty that were typical of the Japanese people, promoting the inculturation of Christianity through the witness of his life, which eventually led to his dying while in exile. Already at the time of his death people were talking of him as though he were a saint.
“His witness of faith was, and is, convincing. Just as his life has led many to the Gospel, so can the blood of his martyrdom continue to be “the seed of Christians.”#
Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro, PhD/History